During the last two years of his presidency, the former Kentucky State University Mr. Christopher Brown II spent over $ 73,000 on his college-issued credit card, the majority of which was used for flights and hotels. Destinations included the Bahamas, Las Vegas, California, and Cancun, among others.
The spending came as school finances rushed into what newly appointed CFO Greg Rush called a “$ 15 million problem.” According to Rush’s recent presentation to state lawmakers, the school is projecting a shortfall of $ 15.7 million for this fiscal year.
The Council on Post-Secondary Education, chaired by former KSU interim president Aaron Thompson, is conducting a comprehensive review of the university amid financial issues that were revealed to the public shortly after Brown resigned on July 20 .
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Credit card statements obtained through an open case request show Brown paid for 67 flights, 72 hotel stays and 22 rental cars or cab rides with his university-funded card. The majority of the remaining expenses were payments to the Uber rideshare app, meals, or eBay fees.
In response to the State Journal, Brown insisted that 100% of his credit card charges were for academic purposes. Brown’s contract governs reimbursement for travel, but does not mention credit card charges.
“All travel was to and from the business destination,” Brown wrote in an email. “All trips were made at the lowest possible bus fare and for official business.”
He added that before acquiring a college credit card, the campus had a travel desk through which similar expenses were billed.
Brown said it was no surprise to focus on the president’s finances after the financial fallout following his resignation.
“While narrow and absent from important contexts, focusing on the president’s desk is often a practical step,” Brown said. “It is often said that the tallest trees catch the most wind. As the campus seeks to continue its efforts to achieve efficient results and operations, it is important to seek clarification of barriers to best practice.
He wrote that the finance division is understaffed, forcing several departments to use acquisition cards instead of going through a purchasing office.
“The divisions used acquisition cards for regular processes, like office supplies, which could be better coordinated through a central store and campus-wide purchasing office, which I have said. already recommended, ”Brown said.
Trips to Mexico, South Africa
Prior to March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Brown was billing his card $ 5,641 per month, averaging more than six hotel stays and six flights – most of which were round trip – per month .
In the summer of 2019, Brown charged at least $ 2,390 on his card for a trip to Cancun, Mexico, including a $ 1,339 stay at the Westin Lagunamar resort. Brown pointed out that during this trip, he visited a KSU student-athlete who played in an all-star game against a roster of Mexican soccer players.
A month before this trip, Brown billed $ 750, or 10,291 South African rand, for a trip to Johannesburg, not including flight costs. Brown sent the State Journal a proposal he wrote to establish a greater partnership between schools as proof of his academic purpose.
He also charged the university $ 657 for a hotel stay in the Bahamas from June 11 to 13. Brown said he went to the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity convocation and met with a planning group for recruiting students there. However, the summons was scheduled for May, not June, according to the group’s Bahama section’s Facebook page and a magazine produced by the fraternity.
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Domestic travel destinations included various cities in the southern United States, Los Angeles and Las Vegas; many flight destinations are not available through credit card statements.
Brown is a church pastor in Las Vegas. Several university-funded flights and rental car travel take place with Vegas as the point of departure or arrival. Brown initially said he did not use the college card to pay for travel to and from Vegas to preach on Sundays. When asked again if the school pays for trips to or from Vegas on the weekends he preaches, Brown said he couldn’t say for sure.
Flights from Tymon Graham, Brown’s former chief of staff, to the same destination as Brown have been spent on Brown’s card seven times since November 2020, after a seven-month lull in spending when travel to the nationwide were rare due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly after Brown’s resignation, Graham was fired by the new administration.
Brown said he purchased Graham’s flights because he was awarded Delta SkyMiles status and if Graham flew with him on the same booking, both received a seat upgrade for comfort or outing.
Brown’s base salary as president was $ 270,000, but the incentives – including a board-approved monthly housing allowance of $ 4,030, a car allowance of $ 950, and an annual retention incentive of $ 4,030. $ 20,000 – brought that number to over $ 400,000. According to a Herald-Leader analysis of his incentives, Brown was making about $ 425,000 per year.
Brown has regularly received positive feedback through his presidential evaluations, the school’s financial audits and more during his tenure. His years there saw growth in school enrollment and the overall graduation rate.
Rush, through a school spokesperson, has yet to respond to questions about the school’s policy regarding monitoring college credit cards.
He told lawmakers last week he had found no evidence that school officials were using university funds for non-university expenses.
Although not included in Brown’s credit card statements, the school and the Kentucky State University Foundation have refused the State Journal’s open record requests for payments made to fund Brown’s birthday parties.
In 2018, Brown posted on Twitter about his birthday party, an occasion that included the presence of rapper Rich Homie Quan.
The foundation has refused a request for such information and payments related to Brown’s trip because it asserts its status as a non-public agency. The attorney general’s office gave its contrary opinion last week. KSU General Counsel Lisa Lang has dismissed the State Journal’s request for “records reflecting holiday payments” celebrating Brown’s birthday, writing that the request was not specific enough to meet the requirements of the State Public Records Act.
The State Journal’s request for Brown’s credit card statements was sent over a month ago along with four other requests – emails, documents and expenses that Brown called “readily available” – but Lang has so far only submitted a response for the statements. She said at the time that the university was still reviewing its records related to the other requests.
Recently, former staff member Regent Chandee Felder was fired from her academic post after criticizing the school board for what she called inaction on the school’s financial problems. Her termination came nearly a week after her lawyer informed Lang that he was representing her “in connection with the exercise of her rights under the Kentucky Whistleblower Act.”
What is allowed and what is normal?
Brown’s contract authorizes him to be reimbursed for travel expenses “reasonably incurred by him for the purpose of or in connection with the performance of his duties as President.” His original and amended contracts do not mention the credit card he started using in the summer of 2019. The contract also mentions that Brown’s wife’s travel could be reimbursed up to five times a year, although that no credit card statement records the trips assigned to it. .
A State Journal Open Records request for additional college-issued credit card statements is pending.
During the same time that Brown used his card – from July 2019 to June 2021 – West Kentucky President Timothy Caboni charged $ 50,828 on his college card. The State Journal requested credit card statements from all state university presidents during the same period and only received WKUs at press time; The Northern Kentucky attorney general told the State Journal that the university president is not using a school-funded credit card.
The WKU fee is around 69% of what Brown charged. WKU’s approved budget for this year is $ 375.6 million, while KSU’s is just under $ 50 million.
James Finkelstein, professor emeritus at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University who studies the contracts of university presidents, said Brown’s credit card spending does not place him in the “pantheon of scandal.” expense accounts ”, but that they are quite high. for the president of a school the size of the state of Kentucky. KSU had approximately 2,200 students enrolled per data acquired this summer.
Judith Wilde, a professor at the same university who is researching with Finkelstein, suggested that best practices for such spending would include a board of regents, or perhaps a subcommittee of the board, reviewing presidential spending.
“Jim and I often say that the most important part of a job for a university board member is hiring a president,” said Wilde. “However, the other key part of the job is fiduciary. The board of trustees has fiduciary responsibility for the university. A truly responsible board will regularly review the financial situation of the university, including the president’s expense reports, at least quarterly.
Right after his resignation, Brown told HBCU Digest that the “powers that be” identified financial health as a vulnerable area for him before he resigned given his resignation as president of Alcorn State University due to financial issues. in 2013.
“It’s like a boxer knowing his opponent’s weak side,” Brown said. “The incumbent parties knew this was a weak area. They can’t say academics aren’t up, grades aren’t up, enrollments aren’t up. The only area that is not fully defended is that of budgetary surveillance.